Come On, Get Happy
Warning: This movie may make you like hippies!
by Britt McGinnis
Saint Misbehavin: The Wavy Gravy Movie. Directed and produced by Michelle Esrick. 87 minutes.
Im jaded about documentary films. Far too many of them try to force a certain point of view, as opposed to just informing us about the matter at hand. It always feels a little off to walk into an "informative” film only to walk away second-guessing everything youve just "learned.” But thats not the point of Saint Misbehavin: The Wavy Gravy Movie, which tells the tale of the pop culture icon (and consummate hippie) without quite being a documentary, or even a biography. Its just a movie, man. Sit back and enjoy the ride. I sure did.
Saint, if anything, is structured like a long walkabout and talk with Wavy Gravy (born Hugh Romney), a guy who regularly does offbeat stuff and then acts as though its nothing. Like dress as a clown any day of the week. Like pray to every single form of god known to man (Lenny Bruce and Martin Luther King Jr. are included in that list). At one point, Gravy goes to a Ben & Jerrys store and orders carton after carton of the ice cream for a dinner. Apparently, because he has a flavor named after him, Gravy is allowed free ice cream for life. Which he milks. A lot, according to the store.
Thats the feel of the whole film ã on the ground. Talking to friends and teachers about a past time. In the mud. Running after kids, serving food to a bunch of shoeless folks while music plays in the hills over yonder. The whole film just sort of bops around with this light, whimsical air. And thats just swell.
But the sheer amount of past footage from Gravys multifaceted life is absolutely remarkable: videos from the "Nobody for President” campaign; black-and-white home movies from the Hog Farms Eurotrip for victims of the 1970 Bangladesh cyclone; television interviews from across the decades. You wonder how on earth all this footage exists ã who knew hippies had video cameras? The film is a living scrapbook, a ramblin journey through this nations past.
But the films real success is the sound editing. The music flows through the different scenes without any trace of awkwardness or intrusion, and audio clips pass over pictures without feeling too much like a high-school kids Powerpoint presentation. Its quite a feat, considering the number of images fading in and out. The commentaries from Wavy and friends prove to be a strong connecting thread, and it keeps the rest of us from becoming too lost in the swirl of images.
At times the film borders on the edge of preachy, like when Gravy gets excited talking about the time he discovered the human capacity for good while taking LSD with the Pranksters. But the film automatically snaps back to attention, hopping from slideshow to interview in pursuit of Wavy Gravy. The idea is to tell his story, plain and simple. The people in the film dont forget that fact, so we can give their tales about peace-love-LSD a slide.
"Everything Wavy says is true, although its all unbelievable,” says spiritual guru Ram Dass. Indeed, some of Wavy Gravys antics will make you giggle. And the idea of a guy dressing as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny to deter violence at a Vietnam protest? Hilarious.
This ranks as one of the best documentary and biographical films Ive seen in a while, if only for the simple fact that it doesnt try to be either one. It has the simple feel of a bunch of folks huddled over a scrapbook. Its a great summer flick for just relaxing and being groovy.
Saint Misbehavin: The Wavy Gravy Movie gets a pair of extra-special screenings Thursday, July 14, at the Bijou, which will be followed by a moderated Skype chat with Mr. Gravy and director Michelle Esrick; for times and more info, visit www.bijou-cinemas.com or call 686-2458. Peace out.